The iconic MiG-21 and its various variants have served the Indian Air Force (IAF) well over the years. India is the largest operator of MiG-21s outside the erstwhile Soviet Union with over 1,200 MiG-21s having served in India when the IAF opted to purchase the MiG-21 over several other Western competitors in 1962.
The MiG-21 was the first successful Soviet aircraft combining fighter and interceptor characteristics in a single aircraft. It was a lightweight fighter, achieving Mach 2 with a relatively low-powered after-burning turbojet, and was comparable to the American Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, the Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter and the French Dassault Mirage III.
Since then it has evolved in capacity and capability and has been extensively used in conflict zones across the world, with approximately 100 MiG-21 ‘Bisons’ still in service with the IAF.
While the Vietnam People’s Air Force was the first Air Force outside the Soviet Union to score an operational kill on a MiG-21 against the USAF in 1966, the Indian Air Force MiG-21s had a very memorable encounter with the Pakistan Air Force during the 1965 Indo-Pak war.
Background — Operation Grand Slam, 1 September 1965
Pakistan attacked India at 0400 hours on 1 September 1965, launching Operation Grand Slam, a Divisional-level attack supported by two M48/47 Patton tank regiments on the Chamb-Akhnoor axis in Jammu and Kashmir to capture Akhnur and the road link from Jammu to Rajouri and Poonch.
The Indian 191 brigade was taken by surprise and hit hard. The Pakistan Army (PA) offensive pushed the Indian Army (IA) units by its sheer weight to the banks of the Munnawar Tawi river